A Convergence of Civilizations

A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World

YOUSSEF COURBAGE
EMMANUEL TODD
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE HOLOCH
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 152
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/cour15002
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  • Book Info
    A Convergence of Civilizations
    Book Description:

    We are told that Western/Christian and Muslim/Arab civilizations are heading towards inevitable conflict. The demographics of the West remain sluggish, while the population of the Muslim world explodes, widening the cultural gap and all but guaranteeing the outbreak of war. Leaving aside the media's sound and fury on this issue, measured analysis shows another reality taking shape: rapprochement between these two civilizations, benefiting from a universal movement with roots in the Enlightenment.

    The historical and geographical sweep of this book discredits the notion of a specific Islamic demography. The range of fertility among Muslim women, for example, is as varied as religious behavior among Muslims in general. Whether agnostics, fundamentalist Salafis, or al-Qaeda activists, Muslims are a diverse group that prove the variety and individuality of Islam. Youssef Courbage and Emmanuel Todd consider different degrees of literacy, patriarchy, and defensive reactions among minority Muslim populations, underscoring the spread of massive secularization throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

    In this regard, they argue, there is very little to distinguish the evolution of Islam from the history of Christianity, especially with Muslims now entering a global modernity. Sensitive to demographic variables and their reflection of personal and social truths, Courbage and Todd upend a dangerous meme: that we live in a fractured world close to crisis, struggling with an epidemic of closed cultures and minds made different by religion.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52746-0
    Subjects: History, Population Studies, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLES
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS OR UNIVERSAL HISTORY?
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    IT HAS BECOME A COMMONPLACE EXERCISE TO PRESENT ISLAM as a religion that is resistant to modernity. Occasional theologians also consider the life of Muhammad and the text of the Koran to locate the causes of the irremediable mental and cultural obstacles that, in their view, affect the Muslim world. For this scholarship of a new kind, Islamic fundamentalism is the expression of an essential antagonism between Islam and the West.

    This essay will demonstrate the superficiality of these pessimistic and aggressive analyses. It intends to provide a different understanding of the world and its evolution. The “clash of civilizations”...

  5. 1 THE MUSLIM COUNTRIES IN THE MOVEMENT OF HISTORY
    (pp. 1-16)

    LEAVING ASIDE THE SOUND AND FURY OF MEDIA COVERAGE, we can define and follow the movement of history in a simple way. The progression of rates of literacy for the planet as a whole provides a vision, both empirical and Hegelian, of an irresistible ascension of the human spirit.¹ Every country, one after the other, marches happily toward a state of universal literacy. This general movement does not match the image of a humanity divided into irreducible if not antagonistic cultures or civilizations. There are gaps, but there are no exceptions, especially no Muslim exception.

    Census surveys that distinguish between...

  6. 2 CRISES OF TRANSITION
    (pp. 17-25)

    A POPULATION WITH A LITERATE MAJORITY IS ON THE PATH TO modernity. The rise in its educational level opens the way not only to a decline in fertility but also to general economic development. An active population that knows how to read and write is productive. Asia’s economic takeoff, a phenomenon whose magnitude has become a major element in the process of globalization, was preceded by a rise in the literacy rate. The men of the Enlightenment had anticipated only that positive sequence of events. But by the end of the nineteenth century, the movement toward modernity had begun to...

  7. 3 THE ARAB FAMILY AND THE TRANSITION CRISIS
    (pp. 26-38)

    VERY DIVERSE FAMILY STRUCTURES ORGANIZED THE PEASANT societies of the past. Their differing value systems can explain the variety of the transitions they experienced. The family model of the peasants of the Paris Basin on the eve of the Revolution was nuclear, requiring newlyweds to establish an autonomous household. The necessary dissociation between adult generations presupposed a liberal value in relations between parents and children. A fanatically egalitarian rule of inheritance, moreover, guaranteed absolute equivalence among children, sons and daughters. The activation of these values by the growth of literacy led very logically to the French Revolution, whose motto “Liberty,...

  8. 4 OTHER MUSLIM WOMEN: EAST ASIA AND SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
    (pp. 39-45)

    ONE OF THE CLICHÉS MOST FREQUENTLY ASSOCIATED WITH Islam concerns THE status of women, which many consider degraded in that religious system. In Arab countries—Iran, Pakistan, the former Soviet countries of Central Asia, eastern Turkey, Albania, and Kosovo—the Muslim religion does coincide with strongly patrilineal family systems, usually endogamous, but exogamous on the northern edges of the area. To the east and south, however, Islam spread to regions whose family systems cannot be considered antifeminist in any way. In Asia, outside India, Islam is almost systematically associated with matrilocal and sometimes clearly matrilineal systems. This reversal deserves explanation....

  9. 5 AT THE HEART OF ISLAM: THE ARAB WORLD
    (pp. 46-67)

    IN THE 1960S, A RENOWNED AMERICAN DEMOGRAPHER BELIEVED he had found evidence of universally high Islamic fertility rates, which showed no significant tendency to decline and would remain higher than those for the followers of other religions.¹ Nearly 97 percent of Arabs are Muslims. Their high rate of fertility was attributed to Islam, a more natalist religion, he believed, than Christianity or Judaism. This approach to the question is now completely outdated.

    In the Arab world, fertility rates have been cut in half in a generation, falling from 7.5 to 3.6 children between 1975 and 2005. The total fertility rate...

  10. 6 THE NON-ARAB GREATER MIDDLE EAST
    (pp. 68-86)

    WHEN ONE APPLIES IT TO THE MIDDLE EAST AS A WHOLE THE demographic approach immediately reveals the absurdity or bad faith of Western, specifically American, geopolitical choices. Western democracies, supposed supporters of democratic modernity, refuse to see that the principal center of development in the region is now Iran. The fertility rate of the Islamic Republic, close to 2 children per woman, contrasts not only with the rates of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, but also, much more unexpectedly, with that of Turkey, whose membership in the European Union is under discussion in Paris, Berlin, and Brussels.

    Among the countries that...

  11. 7 AFTER COMMUNISM
    (pp. 87-100)

    ALONG AN AXIS RUNNING FROM THE BALKANS THROUGH THE Caucasus to Central Asia, a sort of contact line has been established between Islam, the newest of the great universal religions, and communism, the great universalist ideology of the twentieth century. The two beliefs were for a time superimposed on one another, usually because Russian or Yugoslav communism, a force from outside, politically controlled a piece of the Muslim world. In the case of Albania, however, the combination of communism and Islam was essentially an indigenous phenomenon: The pro-Chinese regime of Enver Hoxha was an authentic national creation produced in a...

  12. 8 MATRILOCAL ASIA
    (pp. 101-112)

    THE SLOWING OF CERTAIN DEMOGRAPHIC TRANSITIONS RAISES a complex, almost metaphysical, problem of the ideal fertility rate that a country should reach in the aftermath of its transition: 2 children per woman, 1.5, 1, 0.5, 0? We set out this absurd sequence deliberately, the last figure of which points to the disappearance of the population in one generation, to make it clear that the very low fertility reached by Korea, Japan, Russia, Italy, and Germany cannot be considered as a reasonable and rational goal of every demographic transition. In a large part of the world, the transition has led to...

  13. 9 SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
    (pp. 113-119)

    SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA IS TODAY THE ONLY CONTINENT WHERE fertility levels have remained high almost everywhere and where the demographic transition is in its early stages. It is the continent of mass polygamy, but in contradiction to a common stereotype, this form of marriage is not the source of the African “demographic explosion.” It is true that achieving a high level of polygamy necessitates large age gaps between spouses and therefore a very early marriage age for women, which implies a long reproductive period. But some of these young women are married to old men, whose sexual potency and fertility have...

  14. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 120-122)

    DOES ISLAM INFLUENCE DEMOGRAPHY? ON THE BASIS OF THE historical and geographical survey of the preceding chapters, the answer is clearly no. The spectrum of Muslim rates of fertility around the world—from 1.7 to 7 children per woman—is as varied as the types of Islamic believers, from agnostics and atheists to militant fundamentalists and Salafis, taking in along the way the flourishing category of those who are simply “sociologically” or “culturally” Muslim. Muslim unity, unchanging Islam, and Muslim essence are imaginary constructs.

    When Islam has had an independent effect on demographic transition, this has been deliberately exaggerated. In...

  15. APPENDIX TOTAL FERTILITY RATES OF MUSLIM COUNTRIES
    (pp. 123-128)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 129-134)